Francesca Hayward has been imagining herself in Cats since she was a child, dancing around her living room to a video recording of the stage musical. Needless to say, it's been a surreal year for the Royal Ballet's principal ballerina. Not only did the 27-year-old Hayward get her wish to star in Cats, her first major Hollywood film, but she was also on the cover of British Vogue at the personal request of Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. But perhaps the cherry on top was the fact that she got to record a song written by Taylor Swift.
"Even hearing the sentence, or saying it — it's just so funny," Hayward tells Bustle. "I always laugh, 'cause it's like me singing, and then me singing a song with Taylor Swift, are words I thought I'd never say." In fact, for a long time, Hayward had no idea that the original song she would be singing in the film would have anything to do with Swift.
In Cats, Hayward plays Victoria, the young and innocent white cat who is new to the Jellicle clan. Though her character doesn't perform a song in the original musical production, the filmmakers elevated the part to a leading role, which they felt necessitated a song. "I knew that it was coming," the dancer says, "and then they were like, 'Oh, surprise, Taylor spoke to Andrew Lloyd Webber, [and wrote] your song.'"
And getting the news was just the beginning of the surreal journey to record "Beautiful Ghosts." "She actually sang me the song. I heard it for the first time with Taylor singing it to me," Hayward says with a tinge of disbelief. "And then she asked me at the end of it, if that would be OK with me."
Looking back at her year, singing a Swift original is just one in a series of surreal moments that make up Hayward's Cats experience. Even doing press for the film has been a wild ride for the dancer. "I had so many pinch-me moments during filming, but now doing [press] is a whole other world of surreal-ness." Still, she's happy for the experience, and can confidently say that while Cats might be the only time she gets to sing a Taylor Swift original, it's far from the last time we'll see her on screen: "I'm open to anything now."